Whiteness at the End of the World
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The use of Christian apocalyptic myths has changed significantly over the centuries. Initially used by genuinely disenfranchised groups, they are used today as a response to more egalitarian treatment of minorities in American society. The apocalyptic framework allows the patriarchy to frame itself as the victim who must restore America to a past where white male power went uncontested. This kind of white anxiety over increasing minority rights frequently manifests itself in contemporary apocalyptic media, which often depicts a white male hero facing a wide array of threatening "Others." Taking a unique look at the parallels between apocalypticism and American frontier mythology, as well as conspiracy theories and the post-apocalyptic obsession with repurposed objects, Whiteness at the End of the World analyzes many well-known films from the past fifty years, from Planet of the Apes to I Am Mother. It offers unique, clearly presented insights into recurring patterns that appear in an extraordinarily ubiquitous genre that has only increased in popularity, and whose themes of racial anxiety are increasingly pertinent in our increasingly contentious political climate.

1. "The Ravages of Other Countries": Loss of White America

2. "Unite the Civilized World": Frontier Eschatology

3. "The Red Blood of Patriots": Paranoia and Scapegoating

4. "New Roads, and Highways, and Bridges, and Airports, and Tunnels": Apocalyptic Objects


Works Cited



Publié par
Date de parution 01 juillet 2022
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781438489452
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,1598€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Whiteness at the End of the World
Fareed Ben-Youssef, No Jurisdiction
Tony Tracy, White Cottage, White House
Tom Conley, Action, Action, Action
Lindsay Coleman and Roberto Schaefer, editors, The Cinematographer’s Voice
Nolwenn Mingant, Hollywood Films in North Africa and the Middle East
†Charles Warren, edited by William Rothman and Joshua Schulze, Writ on Water
Jason Sperb, The Hard Sell of Paradise
William Rothman, The Holiday in His Eye
Brendan Hennessey, Luchino Visconti and the Alchemy of Adaptation
Alexander Sergeant, Encountering the Impossible
Erica Stein, Seeing Symphonically
George Toles, Curtains of Light
Neil Badmington, Perpetual Movement
Merrill Schleier, editor, Race and the Suburbs in American Film
Matthew Leggatt, editor, Was It Yesterday?
Homer B. Pettey, editor, Mind Reeling
Alexia Kannas, Giallo!
Bill Krohn, Letters from Hollywood
Alex Clayton, Funny How?
Niels Niessen, Miraculous Realism
A complete listing of books in this series can be found online at www.sunypress.edu
Whiteness at the End of the World
Race in Post-Apocalyptic Cinema

David Venditto
Published by State University of New York Press, Albany
© 2022 State University of New York
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
For information, contact State University of New York Press, Albany, NY
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Name: Venditto, David, 1978– author.
Title: Whiteness at the end of the world : race in post-apocalyptic cinema / David Venditto.
Description: Albany : State University of New York Press, [2022] | Series: SUNY series, horizons of cinema | Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2022005649 | ISBN 9781438489438 (hardcover : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781438489452 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Apocalyptic films—History and criticism. | White people in motion pictures. | Race in motion pictures. | Race relations in motion pictures. | Motion pictures—Social aspects—United States—History—21st century. | Motion pictures—Political aspects—United States—History—21st century. | Motion pictures—United States—History—21st century.
Classification: LCC PN1995.9.A64 V43 2022 | DDC 791.43/615—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2022005649
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Arya, my little lady; and for Tenn, my fuzzy orange spirit animal
1 “The Ravages of Other Countries”: Loss of White America
2 “Unite the Civilized World”: Frontier Eschatology
3 “The Red Blood of Patriots”: Paranoia and Scapegoating
4 “New Roads, and Highways, and Bridges, and Airports, and Tunnels”: Apocalyptic Objects
Works Cited
For reasons long forgotten two mighty warrior tribes went to war and touched off a blaze which engulfed them all. Without fuel they were nothing. They’d built a house of straw. The thundering machines sputtered and stopped. Their leaders talked and talked and talked, but nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled. Cities exploded—a whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear.
— The Road Warrior

A S FAR REMOVED AS WE are from the beginning of apocalyptic myths, we still cling to these same myths, as evidenced in innumerable films and books containing apocalyptic themes. As Susan Sontag once noted in “The Imagination of Disaster,” many sci-fi films seem preoccupied with depicting mass destruction, becoming apocalyptic or postapocalyptic in nature. In fact, the majority of the general public still believes in these myths, as seen in a survey of religious beliefs done in 1996, in which 42 percent of the American respondents answered in the affirmative when asked if “the world will end in a battle in Armageddon between Jesus and the Antichrist” (Boyer 315). Perhaps a little less surprising is the large number of Southern Baptist Convention ministers that subscribe to these end-time beliefs, at 63 percent (Boyer 315). With millions upon millions of people still believing, these myths have an incredible staying power. But why? Many theorists have speculated about what makes these myths endure, even though there’s hardly any consensus—just as there are a multitude of ways to define “apocalypse.”
Apocalyptic texts, despite religious themes that followers often cling to, have deep political meaning, revealing certain aspects of a respective society’s social groups and their relation to one another. It is not just Christian myths that function this way, but virtually all end-time myths in all cultures throughout history. 1 However, the texts need to be viewed in their historical context in order to produce an exegesis that identifies the political forces at work and provides an explanation for their purpose in a given society. Viewed historically, apocalyptic texts are often used by oppressed groups as a response to their own oppression, in an attempt to comfort the adherents and possibly even restructure a hierarchy supporting the subjugation of certain groups. Apocalyptic myths today, however, are used by the dominant culture, as a way of reestablishing dominance in an era of increasing minority rights.
What Is the Apocalypse?
The term eschatology is often used to describe apocalypticism, though the two terms are actually distinct. Eschatology is defined by Bernard McGinn as “any form of belief about the nature of history that interprets historical process in the light of final events.” Apocalyptic eschatology refers to a specific pattern in end-time beliefs, a pattern that usually follows a “crisis-judgment-reward” pattern that is revealed in a sacred book like the Bible (McGinn 13). Thus, the apocalypse refers to a pattern and not simply the mass destruction of society, which is but one part of the overarching template. Of the “crisis-judgment-reward” facets of apocalypse, the “crisis” is often the main focus in popular culture, evidenced in both secular and religious works of fiction.
After the “crisis,” judgment comes and brings even more death, as the evil forces are finally extirpated. In most Christian myths, after a large portion of humanity has been eradicated, the Messiah returns to Earth. In addition, most of these myths reserve salvation for only a select few, and thus “planetary cataclysm only ever has a positive net value from the point of view of the small minority who are saved. And salvation, moreover, always comes at a price, that price often involving terror and destruction” (McGinn 10). In many secular versions of the apocalypse, “crisis” and “judgment” are conflated without any explicit spiritual judgment raining down from God and Christ. Visited upon the world are a variety of afflictions and disasters, from nuclear fallout to virulent diseases that affect most of the populace. After the “terror and destruction” have subsided, a reward is experienced by the handful of people that emerge unscathed, often coming in the form of a revelation. In religious depictions of the end times, Christ seems to reward the faithful with an effulgent new kingdom. In the more secular renderings, which are the focus of this book, the reward comes in the form of a changed understanding about the surrounding world.
A changed perspective is, of course, understood to be part of the “revelation,” which is an integral part of any apocalyptic myth. James Berger explains that
apocalypse thus, finally, has an interpretive, explanatory function, which is, of course, its etymological sense: as revelation, unveiling, uncovering. The apocalyptic event, in order to be properly apocalyptic, must in its destructive moment clarify and illuminate the true nature of what has been brought to an end. (Berger 5)
Postapocalyptic media often has a revelation that functions in the sense that Berger outlines. For instance, the moment in Planet of the Apes (1968) when the remnants of the Statue of Liberty come into view is a succinct encapsulation of a revelation that occurs in a “destructive moment”—so called because it is unclear until that very moment that the monuments of mankind’s reign over the Earth had been largely wiped out. The Statue of Liberty, as an object, becomes an emblem for the whole of the dominant culture and the revelation is, beyond the obvious, that society was perhaps never quite as evolved as we thought.
Though films like Planet of the Apes are Anglocentric, the myths embodied in the films parallel those found across continents and time periods. There is a great similarity in these myths, including a belief in history as a “divinely predetermined totality.” Furthermore, the present day is viewed in a negative light, while hope is held for a coming judgment to punish the wicked and reward the faithful. The reward can be a literal, physical reward, or “other-worldly, individual or collective, temporary or definitive, or a combination of some or all of these elements” (McGinn 10). As McGinn points out, the “reward” can take many forms, comprising a revelation about the world or an actual concrete remuneration.
The reward for believers in Christian myths is sometimes a reshaping of society to allow disenfranchised classes a voice and a way to shape the hierarchies that define human relations. In the world of the myths themselves, the faithful are rewarded with a world without the pain that has characterized their lives. The Bible explicitly promotes the idea that the poor and destitute are to be lifted up, while the rich and powerful are brought down. Much has been written about the New Testament’s attitudes toward the rich and powerful. Luke 18:25 notes that “it is easier f

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